notifications are the worst, but could they help us?

Notifications rob us of presence.  At this juncture, we are quite familiar with the notion that we are losing the ability to focus with sustained thought, and instead crave distractions approximately every other minute.  Not only are we increasingly distracted, we have also significantly lowered the bar for relationships.  For better or worse, we tend to think we do our most honest communicating on social media, removed of the necessity for kindness, of looking another in the eye and remembering that she is a human, just like we are.  Isn’t the connection that occurs when the image of God in me recognizes the image of God in you the thing that makes relationships possible?  Social media relationships make that recognition incredibly tenuous, for a person becomes fully represented by a sentence or image, and the whole of him, his personhood, is overlooked.  And yet, as I argued last week, we have also discovered that social media creates a new sphere for public and interpersonal engagement, and that is a fabulous thing.

The best social media applications create space in real time for people to interact.  It should be acknowledged that this idea is at least half bullshit, for online conversing has a way of removing nuance and eliminating the visceral empathy that accompanies interactions in person.  Nevertheless, it feels true to many of us, and the possibility of rich interaction compels us to always be connected.  So we sign up for notifications.  Soon we find ourselves compulsively checking our phones for these dings, which serve as practical proof of our relevance.  The irony is that these notifications, which tell us that our real-time-community needs our attention, often interrupt—and even destroy—the actual community happening around us in real time.  The tragedy is that clicking the innocent “turn on” button, like the choice to use a phone as an alarm clock, elevates the power our phones have over us exponentially.  Often with very little intention, we make our phones and the insubstantial connections they provide the primary touchstones for our information gathering, our sense of value and our notions of belonging.  While access to social media can assist in providing global and relational context, it falls tragically short of fulfilling our various needs.  In fact, the centrality of phones and notifications can often have an inverse impact, narrowing our scope of news and limiting our creativity in finding fulfillment. 

Nevertheless, if notifications are here to stay, interrupting our present communities and training our souls to crave dings of relevance like so many dog treats, I would like to humbly offer more useful applications of them: 

Anecdotal confusion notifications: A light ring informs you if you doubledown on a weak argument because you “know a guy” or a friend “literally told you” what happened.  This is helpful in establishing the difference between anecdotes and peer-reviewed, objective research.  If you receive this notification often you might consider the notion that many of your positions are unfounded blather.

Asshole notifications: A quick ding alerts you when you are being an asshole.  This could be useful in identifying self-absorption, arrogance, or drunken antics no one else enjoys.  This notification is especially helpful when one is pretending to listen to a person while also checking her many notifications.

Pants-on-fire notifications: A simple alert informs you that no one is buying your protests that, “you don’t really care, but can you believe she said that?”, or that you don’t mind buying this round, or that you are trying botox but will never take it too far (like all the other people you know who have been “trying” it a year longer than you).

Hivemind notifications: A low buzz makes you aware that the basis of your argument is based on uncritical conformity rather than thoughtful analysis.  A buzz higher in pitch could alert you to the fact that your thoughts are often affirmed because you only converse with people who share your perspective.  Consider expanding your points of view.

Insecurity notifications: A gentle ring lets you know that your efforts to appear relaxed, comfortable in your own skin and clothing, and fully authentic in all your posts is, in fact, failing miserably.  

This is not the Stanley Cup Finals notifications: A fog horn gently reminds you that you are escalating a moment of engaging discourse into an intense brawl.  This conversation is not a competition, but a group of adults sharing diverse perspectives. You might consider simmering down.

Navel gazing notifications: A bell tinkles to awaken your perception to the reality that in an effort to resonate with a friend, you have, in fact, hijacked his story with your own, and are now saying all the words.

Your misogyny is showing notifications: A pleasing meow sound alerts you to the fact that your jokes aren’t quite landing, and that your “clever banter” is making those around you who believe in the dignity and value of all humans very uncomfortable. You can take a guy out of a locker room, but you can’t take the…

Your attention span is shrinking notifications: A siren rapidly decreasing in volume unsuccessfully tries to give you perspective on your dangerous habit of encouraging distraction by compulsively checking your phone.  You will soon have the attention span of my dog, who is a dog, and has no attention span.

Consider turning off all notifications—for the good of humanity—before it’s too late!!